The importance of your business’s web site is not a point to discuss. But on the other hand some common mistakes and pitfalls can easily make this essential element of your business work against you. There are two ways that you can get your company website online: you can either go for cloud-ready packages from Microsoft (Office 365) or from Google (Google Apps) or you can build your own website. Although cloud offerings provide a seemingly quicker way to get up and running, building your own website has its own benefits. You will have a website that is tailored for your business, which will make you stand out from the similar-looking sites, you will have a total control over the design, you will have a total control over the presentation and the like. Let’s see how you can successfully build and bring your small business website online.
First, you need a simple and sensible web address. It should be something like www.mycompany.com (or yourcompany.com.tr, yourcompany.ru depending on your preference) and not something like www.PleaseBuyFromMyCompany.com. People call you with your name in real life and with your Internet address in the online life, which means a web site is your name, your brand on the Internet. Once you decide on the name, decide on the domain: will you choose com, net or org domain? If your company is a commercial entity, go with the com domain. If you are an organization, then org domain will be a better choice. A friendly note: avoid dashes and numbers unless they are part of your company name.
Next, define the content of your website. Ask yourself some basic questions and make sure that you find the answers on your site:
Why would I come to your website? I am coming to your website because I want to know your products/services better. That means, when I hit your site on the web browser this information should be readily available. Don’t forget: the average attention span of a web surfer is less than 5 seconds. Make sure that your website does not make people trying to find information.
What do I do now? If I liked your products/services what do I do next? Place a visible action call to your website: “Call now for more information”, “Call now to schedule a meeting”, “Leave your phone to allow us to call you back” are examples of action calls on your website. Psychologically we, human beings easily respond to this simple calls. Use it to your advantage, but don’t overdo it. Making excessive calls will make you look like a spammer.
How can I contact you? Would you feel comfortable if a visitor is happy with your products/services but she is leaving because she could not find how to contact you? Make sure that there is at least a clear “Contact” link visible on your website (friendly note: make sure it is either in the top right corner, side bar or footnote). In the contact information make sure that you include e-mail addresses, telephone, fax numbers, address and an embedded Google map showing your location. Make sure that the visitor is able to contact you from wherever place on your site and she can contact you with whichever channel she chooses: e-mail, telephone etc..
OK, I learned about your offerings, so why should I come back? This is an often missed point on the websites. Everything is clearly presented and there is no point in visiting the website again except for the contact information. You can change this by offering fresh, up to date and quality content. This not only gives your website a personality but also will make you benefit on the SEO side, which we will see in the next section.
I am a social creature, are you? Facebook, Twitter and Google+, when used properly will magically work to your advantage. First, it will make your customers your “friends.” Second, it will dramatically decrease your response time, which will make your “friends” even happier. Third, any announcements you put on the social media will travel faster than the speed of light on the Internet. Fourth you can feel the pulse of the market in real time, which will place you steps ahead in the competition. I definitely advise you to appoint one person in the company whose job is primarily working with social media.
I am still not convinced? Customer testimonials is the answer. The experience of the previous customers, honest feedback will build trust way quicker than you can imagine. Just think about yourself: if you are planning to buy a car, and if you have narrowed your choices to a few brands, then you will speak with your friends who own cars of those brands. A good feedback about a particular brand will shift your thoughts to that brand. Your small business website is the same; customer testimonials about your products/services to your visitors are what your friends’ positive thoughts about a particular brand to you. Plus, they tell your customers things that you haven’t said on your website.
Then comes the technical part. Unless you are an enthusiast or you are a high-tech company, you might be hearing the following for the first time:
Site navigation: This is crucial for your website. You have to provide the visitors an easy, visible way to find the information they are looking for. At the very least, you can do this with drop-down menus, but there are lots of very creative sitemap and navigation examples you can find. I also recommend using breadcrumbs so that the visitors can see where they are at a glance.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO): In a world of Internet search, the ranking of your website in the search engines is particularly important. You do not need to employ various twists and ninja techniques to rank higher. Make sure that at the very least your website is developed and coded correctly, correct keywords are used, links are properly put and tags for the images and videos are correctly used and you provide fresh and up to date content as I have just said. These all will add to your positive marks in the search engines, helping your small business website to receive higher ranks in the searches.
All these boil down to your website design: how your identity, your company’s products/services, contact information is presented to the visitor. Since your website visitors have an attention span of less than 5 seconds, the following items are especially important to deliver them the information about your company:
Slow loading website: Nobody will wait for minutes for your website to load. Make sure that it loads quick, preferably in a couple of seconds. If not, your visitors will leave your website and will not come back.
Complex website: If they cannot find the information they need in seconds, know that you lost them. Make the information visible, let them go where they want to quickly.
Broken links: If you have a link that does not work, either delete it or correct it. How do you feel when you click on a link on a website and see “Error 404: Not found” error? Don’t frustrate your users the same. There are various tools that check broken links. Use them.
Fully functional elements: After the “not found” error, I think the second most frustrating thing on a website is some element not correctly functioning. If that small application is looking good but not working, either remove it or make it work.
Poor design: This is the most obvious of all but still worths mentioning. There are two sides to this item. First, your website should be designed friendly, allowing easy access to content. To accomplish this, you can present information in small paragraphs and/or bullet points, highlight important elements (words and phrases) or present them with graphics. Second, your website should be easy on the eyes. Your visitors want to focus on the information they need, so that dancing cat at the side or the music running in the background will not make your website better, it will make hundred times worse. Use simple and basic colors. Even paint companies do not employ lots of colors in their websites. I strongly recommend working with a professional web designer; you will have a very quick return on your investment.
Now comes the deployment. Make sure you have a secure host to deploy your website; the top 10 companies that we mention on our front page will be a good starting point. Not only you want to be your website to be available all the time (about 99.9% availability) but also you want your website to be secure. Cheap providers will offer you very good prices but you need to consider think about the future: what prices will they quote for additional storage space? What prices will they quote for the additional bandwidth? Will they be able to handle the traffic? How about the support? A cheap provider can easily turn out to be more expensive then a trusted host.
After all these steps, you have successfully brought your site online but you are not finished quite yet. You need to follow your web analytics. If you are an existing Google user, you can check Google Analytics and see which keywords point to your site, which page visitors land, from which page they leave your site, how much time they spend on your site, what is the rate of the returning visitors etc.. These all will help you analyze, change, improve, reevaluate your website and in turn your online “identity.” And it is not only Google who offer Google Webmaster Tools, Microsoft also has its own Bing WebMaster Tools and probably your web host will also offer you some tools.
I agree that all these is hard, sometimes non-ending, oftentimes tedious but it is your business, your website, your online identity and it is you (and your employees’) duty to keep it in top shape in today’s online world.